Article by Dave Walsh
That title might read like hyperbole to some, but when you stop and look at the cold, hard facts when it comes to athletes competing on the highest level, not many who have stepped into the UFC ring have had the sheer credentials that Ronda Rousey has. We’ve heard a lot about some of the high level wrestlers in the UFC, but the reality is, we’ve seen one two Olympic medalists in the UFC’s history by the way of Kevin Jackson and Matt Lindland. Jackson competed early on during the UFC’s pre-Zuffa run where he won a Middleweight tournament at UFC 14, competed at UFC Japan and then made his last appearance for the company at UFC 16. We’ve come a long way since then and Ronda Rousey is one of the few athletes to enter into the UFC with an Olympic medal on her resume.
Fans like to talk about Randy Couture’s Olympic Wrestling credentials, as Couture was a three-time Olympic alternate, but he never actually made it to the Olympics and although he made an immediate impact showing his skill, he was never an Olympic grappler. That isn’t to knock on Couture’s skills, as he was one of many wrestlers who entered into the UFC back in the early days, but he found a way to really make his skills work for him and helped to bring wrestling in MMA into the present, following in the path blazed by Mark Coleman, Mark Kerr and Dan Severn.
Dan Severn is also one of the wrestlers from the early days who has a strong wrestling background and quasi-Olympic credentials as he was also an Olympic alternate for three consecutive Olympic games. Severn was during the early days of the UFC and his style was noted to be, well, kind of boring and uneventful, although his throws were the stuff of legends. I feel like most of his career can be summed up by Ken Shamrock and himself circling around the ring tentatively at UFC 9, upsetting everyone and ushering in the era of “wrestling is boring” early on in the UFC’s run.
Then there was Matt Lindland. Matt Lindland actually went to the Olympic Games in the year 2000 on the American team, which is quite impressive, right? If you’ve ever wondered where Matt Lindland’s ultra-cool nickname of “The Law” came from, look no further than how he secured his spot on the Olympic team. Lindland lost his last qualifying bout and claimed that he was tripped. Most athletes would shrug and move on, but Lindland opted instead to take this matter to court, which got him a rematch, which he won, putting him on the Olympic team. Lindland went on to take the Silver medal in impressive fashion, but fell short of that Gold. This still makes him the most decorated athlete the UFC has seen outside of Jackson, though.
Ronda Rousey is in a precarious position, as she is the first female fighter ever signed to a UFC fight contract as well as the first ever UFC Women’s Champion. She might not be one of the trailblazers of Women’s MMA, but she is a trailblazer for Women’s MMA in the UFC, which is the grandest stage of them all. Rousey will not only hold this distinction of being the first female MMA fighter within the UFC, participate in the first female MMA fight in the UFC and be the first champion, but she is also one of the most decorated athletes in all of the UFC’s history.
Rousey’s career in Judo is one that we’ve all heard about before, with her mother setting the pace for her career and Rousey qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Games at the tender age of 17. This led the way to Rousey’s Olympic performance in 2008 at 70kg where she lost the quarterfinal bout, but went on to win her next fight to secure third place and the Bronze Medal. Sure, it might not be the Gold, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a most impressive accolade.
So Rousey is in good company when it comes to Olympic athletes within the UFC and comes in near the top of the list when it comes to Olympic and legitimate sport credentials. For a male athlete of her level to join the UFC it would be a huge deal, but Rousey’s position within the realm of Women’s MMA and her signing with the UFC makes this an even bigger deal. The UFC needs more athletes who have competed at such a high level to help get over their inferiority complex to other, more established sports and Rousey can do just that.
Of course, Rousey does have to actually win her fight to keep the ball rolling and Liz Carmouche is no pushover. Then again, she isn’t an Olympic Judoka, either.